Mince Pies – An English Tradition

Mince Pies | Fig & Honey

One of my favorite English christmas traditions that has stuck with my family over the years has to be these Mince Pies. Nothing tastes like Christmas like a bite of one of these. Once made, they never last very long around the house as I consider them a perfect replacement for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, tea time accompaniment and after dinner treat. Contrary to what you may think, these have nothing with meat and are sweet, not savory. They’re made with currants, raisins and candied peel mixed with a bit of apple, almonds and brandy. An extremely tasty combination!

Most of all these little pies play a huge role in our Christmas morning traditions. Once all of us in the family is awake, a large pot of tea is brewed, the fire lit and a big plate of Mince Pies are transfered to the living room where we all sit around the christmas tree and exchange presents taking a sip of tea and a bite of pie all the while. Somehow these things have all become intertwined and it’s just not christmas morning with out a bit of wrapping paper to tear open, a strong piping hot cup of tea and these sweet treats.

Mince Pies | Fig & Honey

I must admit, these are made with store bought mincemeat from England. There are a few brands that I love and are perfect in a pinch. However, I have had quite a lot of success making mincemeat at home with this recipe from Delia Smith. It’s actually better than store bought, but just requires a bit of advanced planning. The effort is worth it as it lasts a long while if sealed. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, just as long as you make these in time for Christmas day!

Mince Pies | Fig & Honey

Mince Pies

Makes 24

  • 10 oz plain flour
  • 6 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • ice cold water
  • 12 oz prepared or pre-bought mincemeat
  • 30 ml milk
  • powdered sugar to decorate

To make the pastry, place the flour and butter in a large bowl.  With your fingertips, rub the butter and flour together until everything resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the powdered sugar and a pinch of salt and mix to evenly distribute.  Adding about 3-4 tablespoons of water, one at a time, mix everything together until a ball is formed.  Separate into the two balls and wrap each with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove one of the balls of pastry from the fridge and roll out as thinly as possible.  Cut out with a 3 inch cutter (or one that fits your bun tin or cupcake tin). Roll out the second ball of pastry and cut out using a star shaped cutter.  Line the tins with the rounds and fill each with a bit of mincemeat and top with a star.   Place back in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Remove the tins from the fridge.  With a pastry brush, lightly brush the stars with a bit of milk. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly in the tins and then transfer carefully to a cooling rack.  When cool sprinkle with powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.

Zimtsterne – German Christmas Cookies

Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Christmas cookies are quite possibly my favorite thing about Christmas. I love that certain foods are very specific to certain times of the year. On Christmas Eve most years, my family and I bake a batch of sugar cookies and spend the afternoon decorating them in the most perfect way.

My sister always has the most precise and beautiful intricate creations.  My brother will normally spend the entire time decorating one prized cookie that usually looks too good to eat.  My husband usually piles on as much icing as the cookie can handle because he likes the more icing to cookie ratio. For me, usually the first few start out quite well, then I start getting more and more fed up and aim for quantity not quality! It’s always a struggle for the perfectionist in me. However, this afternoon is definitely one of my favorite traditions and the results are usually too good to eat!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

This year we’ve been trying lots of different German Christmas cookies.  My favorite so far has been this Zimtsterne. These are traditional cookies that are found in bakeries, markets and supermarkets all over at this time of year.  Translated directly as Cinnamon Stars, they are a meringue based cookie with ground almonds and flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest.  It’s quite simple really and very delicious.  They are however, a pain to make!

The meringue base makes things extra sticky. Usually only copious amounts of powdered sugar can help to solve this problem. Then once you have managed to cut out the stars, the meringue topping must be evenly spread on top of each one. Though for others this might not be a huge issue, for me it’s super time consuming. I like everything to be perfect and that can only be achieved with time! In the end, they didn’t turn out perfect, but they were very delicious! I like to think that the rough edges add to the charm!
Zimtsterne - German Christmas Cookie | Fig & Honey

Zimtsterne

Makes about 40 -50 stars

  • 3 egg whites
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 360 g ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 2 small lemons
  • pinch of salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat egg whites until foamy with the whisk attachment. Make sure your bowl is completely clean and free from any oils before you start. Begin adding the powdered sugar in small batches while the mixer is running. Beat until the meringue is very shiny, but before very stiff peaks form.

In a small bowl, remove 50 g of the meringue. Cover and refrigerate.

Next, fold in the ground almonds, cinnamon, zest and salt into the remaining meringue mixture. Fold until evenly distributed, but be careful not to over mix. Tip the contents out onto a large sheet of parchment paper sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with some more powdered sugar and top with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll out the dough till about 1cm thick. Place the whole thing in the refrigerator to cool for a 1/2 hour to an 1 hour. This step is not completely necessary, but things can get very sticky so it makes life a bit easier!

Once the dough is cooled, you can begin cutting. Remove the top sheet of parchment and sprinkle again with a bit of powdered sugar. Dipping your star cookie cutter into powdered sugar each time, cut out the stars and place onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Continue to collect the dough into a bowl and roll out until all is used up.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.Using a offset spatula or a knife, spread the remaining meringue mixture evenly across all stars making sure it doesn’t drip down the sides. Place into the oven and bake fore 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them towards the end of 1o minutes so the meringue doesn’t begin to brown.

Let cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy when fully cooled and store in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne | Fig & Honey

Lately it’s been a bit difficult finding the time to edit pictures and blog. For some reason, it seems as though time always seems to speed up at this point of the year. With the Christmas markets in full swing here, my nights and sometimes my afternoon are spent meeting up with friends and chatting over a Glühwein (mulled wine) and a delicious Flammlachs (grilled salmon sandwich). Since it’s our last year here, I’m making the most of the holiday cheer that is the christmas markets – even if it is a bit over the top! Last weekend, the hubby and I threw a Christmas party which took me the better part of the previous week to prep for. It turned out to be the most fun I’ve had a in a long while, so it was well worth it! On top of all that, I’ve been trying out new German cookie recipes and trying to find time to knit some last minute presents! It’s definitely a whirlwind around here!

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne | Fig & Honey

This month feels like it’s flying by already, but I realized that it also means that the end of the year is coming up. After I did an internship at a local bakery, I’ve barely had any time to make some of my own bread, which makes me quite sad. So before the year comes to an end and I forget all I’ve learnt, I managed to find a bit of time to make this amazing couronne that I’ve very excited to share with you all. I decided to mix up the flavors a bit and think that they are very fitting for this time of year.

It would be just perfect at tea time with a nice cup of tea. Or better yet, perfect for a pre-breakfast on Christmas day while opening presents. I’m really looking forward to making this again for the family in a couple weeks.

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne | Fig & Honey

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne

Serves 8

Dough

  • 2 cups (250 g) all purpose flour
  • scant 3/4 tsp (4 g) salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp (7 g) instant yeast
  • 3 tbsp (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (105 ml) milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Filling

  • 1/3 cup (80 g) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (120g) cranberries, soaked in a bit of fresh orange juice
  • 2/3 cup (65 g) pistachios
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup (35g) plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Topping

  • 1 1/2 tbsp (30 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (100 g) icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup (30 g) flaked almonds

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne | Fig & Honey

First get started with the dough.  In a large bowl, add all of the ingredients.  With your hands, mix to combine everything together.  Continue mixing until all the bits of flour are incorporated, the bowl is clean and dough is nice and soft.

Next, tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 12 minutes. The dough will be really wet to start with and then will slowly become more and more smooth and easier to work with.  Once the dough is smooth and silky you’re finished. Place it in a oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar with wooden spoon. Mix until smooth. Add in the cranberries (drained), pistachios, orange zest, flour and ginger. Mix till combined and set aside.

After the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface. Being careful not to knock out all of the air, roll gently into a rectangle (about 13×10 inches). Spread the fruit and nut filling over surface making sure to go all the way to the edges. Then, with the long edge facing you, begin to roll the dough up tightly. With a sharp knife, slice the roll lengthways all the way through. You are now left with 2 halves. Starting at one end, twist the dough over itself to make it one long rope. Join the edges to make a circle and tuck the ends under. Place the whole thing on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Wrap the baking tray with a large plastic bag (preferably clear so you can see whats going on) and be sure to tent it and leave enough room for the dough to rise. Leave it to prove for 30-40 minutes. Turn on the oven to 200°C/400°F.

Once risen, remove the plastic bag and place into the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes all is golden brown. Cool on a baking rack. With a pastry brush, gently brush the whole surface with the honey.

While the couronne is cooling, make the topping. Mix the icing sugar with a couple teaspoons of water so it is runny enough to drizzle.  Drizzle zig zags over the whole loaf and then top with the sliced almonds. Let cool before serving.

Pistachio and Cranberry Couronne | Fig & Honey

Kale and Walnut Pesto

Kale and Walnut Pesto | Fig & Honey

Today I walked into my local organic supermarket and saw Kale! I nearly jumped up and down with joy and excitement and my heart definitely skipped a beat.  I managed to contain myself, but inside my heart was doing a little happy dance!

You see, the supermarkets here in Germany are quite a bit different to those in England and the US. I’ve been spoilt with selection over the years in the US and despite the huge environmental and nutritional cost of providing all sorts of fruit and veg year round, I’ve kinda gotten used to it. Until I moved here to Germany that is.

For the most part you can just about find everything you need, but it’s the produce section that sometimes frustrates me. Though many fruits and vegetables are shipped from all over the world – grapefruits from mexico, bananas from peru, green beans from kenya, others only appear on a seasonal basis. It’s a good thing really since most of the seasonal produce is grown regionally making the farm to table distance much shorter which is great for the earth and for the nutritional value of the food. But sometimes, just sometimes, I get a bit down when I see the bloggers of the world enjoying their kale salads, green smoothies and yummy soups.

Kale and Walnut Pesto | Fig & HoneySo when I saw that it was Kale season, I was so excited! Even though it means the cold weather is setting in, it makes me super excited to find ways to incorporate this healthy green into our diets for the next four months! To start with -a fresh and bright kale pesto. Perfect for a break from the heavy thanksgiving leftovers (which we only just finished today).

Pesto is perfect this time of the year since it keeps for awhile in the fridge and can make any dinner special very quickly. After all the running around all the way up to the December holidays, its nice to have a quick and healthy dinner option around. Some ways that I’m looking forward to trying this with are:

  • roasted tomato soup with a dollop of pesto & grilled mozzarella
  • whole wheat pasta tossed in pesto sauce
  • crostinis with pesto & shaved parmesan
  • pesto, sundried tomato and goats cheese palmiers
  • spread on crusty bread with some english cheddar and roasted peppers to make a perfect sandwich

The possibilities are endless. Make a batch and experiment all week!

Kale and Walnut Pesto | Fig & Honey

Kale and Almond Pesto

makes about 1 cup

  • 2 cups kale, leaves and stems separated
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • handful of basil – about 6-8 leaves
  • 1/8 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

Since kales a bit hearty, its best to blanch the leaves and stems before blitzing in the food processor. So to start, heat about 4 -5 cups of water in a small saucepan to boiling. While the water is heating, chop the kale leaves and stems roughly.  Get a bowl of cold water ready next to the cooker. Once the water is boiled, throw in the leaves for about 30 seconds or so. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into the cold water promptly to stop the cooking. Next add in the stems and cook for about 2-3 minutes until they are just soft. Also remove and place in the cold water.

Next, add the kale, lemon zest, lemon juice, walnuts, garlic, basil and parmigiano reggiano into a food processor. Pulse everything a few times to get everything chopped up and mixed together. Then turn it on and drizzle the olive oil in slowly until all is finely chopped. You can add more olive oil if you like a runnier pesto or keep it chunky.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche | Fig & Honey

I learned how to cook rather unconventionally. Or rather, I learned the way of cooking that millions in the east of the world learn how to cook. With flavors and ingredients, not recipes in the western sense of the word. While cooking with my mother, I was usually just told what ingredients are required. A little bit of this spice, a little bit of that aromatic and a lot of taste testing. See, most Indians don’t cook with exact measurements. It’s always about a feeling and always easily adjustable to the number of people that are coming to dinner.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche | Fig & Honey

Maybe it has to do with the culture, as most Indian mothers I know are forever trying to feed the world and extra people are always added to the table. Or perhaps it’s more because of the sheer number of ingredients that go into any given dish and that no two are ever equal. Chilis grown in the backyard are never the same hotness as those found at the supermarket. I suppose because of all these things, you learn to understand the flavor profile of each ingredient and soon realize how much of each will most probably be required in any dish. Combined with taste testing, this almost always results in a perfectly balanced and fully flavored meal. It also results in one knowing how to mix and match flavors and ingredients for all cuisines. That is, if you properly paid attention when your mother was talking.

My unconventional schooling has helped me develop a guilty pleasure of mine of ordering unique flavor combinations when eating out and trying to figure out what went into them. This Pumpkin Gorgonzola Quiche is one of those orders. It looked good when I picked it out and tasted amazing when I took my first bite. After that the wheels were turning in my head trying to figure out how to replicate it at home. This was an easy one, but undeniably tasty.

I love the creaminess of the pumpkin mixed with the bite from the gorgonzola. All served on a thyme crust. Delicious. And perfect for a light dinner or even as a indulgent brunch over the holidays.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche | Fig & Honey

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche

Serves 8

Pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 125g butter
  • 3-4 Tbsp cold water
  • 3 large sage leaves, finely chopped

Filling

  • 480g roasted pumpkins
  • 60ml water
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml milk (I used unsweetened Almond Milk)
  • salt and pepper

To make the pastry, add the plain flour and butter to a large mixing bowl. Rub butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the sage leaves and evenly distribute. Then add 3 Tbsp cold water and bring everything together with your hands adding the additional water if necessary. Roll into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll to fit a 9 inch deep tart tin. Prick the base all over with a fork.  Place the tin back into the fridge for 15-20 minutes to rest.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F.

Cover the pastry with parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and baking beans and put back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, place the roasted pumpkin and water into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a can of pumpkin puree if you are in a hurry- just don’t add any additional water. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the tart case onto a baking sheet. Pour the pumpkin puree into the tart case and spread evenly. Crumble the gorgonzola over the pumpkin puree evenly.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt as the gorgonzola is quite salty too. Pour the mixture over the gorgonzola making sure it doesn’t overflow.

Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set and golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack till just warm.

Garnish with fried or fresh sage.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Quiche | Fig & Honey

Beet Green & Mushroom Frittata

Beet Green and Mushroom Frittata | Fig & HoneyI had high hopes this summer. I had visions of growing pots of fresh green veggies and herbs that I could just reach out and pluck whenever I felt like. Unfortunately, our slightly shady, but lovely patio is not so great for growing very many edible things.

Like me, tomatoes and other tasty fruits and vegetables enjoy basking in the sun. So instead of a mini-garden with fruiting plants, I chose things like salad greens, basil and swiss chard. These I knew, are content with a sliver of sunshine for just a portion of the day.

However, while at the garden center dreaming about owning a farm, I spotted a lovely bunch of just sprouted beets. With visions of gorgeous purple beet salads, I threw caution to the wind and decided to take the chance and try them out.

Beet Green and Mushroom Frittata | Fig & Honey

All summer, I lovingly watered them and weeded them and waited and waited until I could harvest them. When the time came, I was so excited to see what was going on beneath the soil. To see if there was anything juicy at the bottom of the the lovely leafy greens. I could never be a farmer, the wait is unbearable at times.

I was disappointed. It turns out very little was going on beneath the soil. These gorgeous green leaves didn’t have what they needed to grow beets. I suppose I still have a lot of learn about gardening!
Beet Green and Mushroom Frittata | Fig & Honey
So what to do? Though I had grand plans of raw beet salads and roasted beets, I needed to rethink my strategy. Beet greens as it turns out are even more nutritious than the actual beets themselves and just happen to exceptionally tasty too. So what better to whip up than a quick frittata. Frittatas are the perfect solution as they take up barely any of your time and let you use up all the bits and bobs that are lying around the fridge. Add a few eggs and you’ve got a delicious lunch!
Beet Green and Mushroom Frittata | Fig & Honey

Beet Green & Mushroom Frittata

Serves 2

  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3-4 cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups beet greens, roughly chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to the grill mode.

Heat a small oven safe frying pan (stainless steel or cast iron) on medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and sliced onions and then saute until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Next add in the mushrooms and beet greens.

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a medium bowl. Add the milk and cheddar cheese and season lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk together until combined.

Once the beet greens are wilted, add in the egg mixture and give everything a quick stir.

Cook for about 3-5 minutes until the eggs have set on the bottom and only the top layer remains undercooked. At this point, carefully transfer the pan to a high shelf in the oven. Watching closely, let the eggs get puffy and brown on top. After about 2-3 minutes, once the top is evenly browned, remove the pan from the oven.

Garnish with some chopped beet greens and eat whilst hot!

Beet Green and Mushroom Frittata | Fig & Honey